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A Bicycle Journey into Australia

by Roff Smith

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7922-7952-2
Publisher: National Geographic

Adventure travel at an easy pace, in territory that will be unfamiliar to most readers.

Building on his recent three-part series of articles in National Geographic, journalist Smith recounts his 21-speed pilgrimage along the edges of Australia, a country he has lived in since 1982. “Australia,” he writes, “was pleasant, sunny, and suburban, but I felt no emotional bond to it”—a shortcoming he decided to address at 38, ever so slightly overweight and certainly not in fighting trim, by seeing the country on two wheels (a mode of transport, he slyly admits, that suited his financially straitened circumstances just fine). That stage having been set, adventure finds Smith quickly in these pages—he’s no sooner out the door when a road-rage-afflicted Sydney driver nearly takes him out of the game, and he regrets his decision at the first big hill he has to climb. Still, he presses on with what he calls “Yankee mulishness,” logging thousands of miles and enjoying mostly happy encounters with the survivalists, back-to-the-landers, rabid nationalists, Eurotrash vagabonds, cowboys, truckers, and retirees who clog the outback roads. This portrait of Australia doesn’t necessarily put the lie to the travel brochures—he finds plenty of beauty everywhere, and readers will envy him for that—but there are enough seedy little towns, venomous reptiles, and sundry unpleasantries that, he writes ruefully, “sometimes it was easy to think this was the highway to hell.” The author never stays in any one place long enough to do more than scratch the surface, and he tends not to say much beyond the obvious—standard National Geographic fare. Still, Smith is an unfailingly cheerful narrator, quick to laugh at himself and point out interesting sights along the way.

All in all, an enjoyable excursion for armchair travelers.